Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 13

And why was Lord de Mowbray going to the Temple? He had received the day before when he came home to dress a very disagreeable letter from some lawyers, apprising him that they were instructed by their client Mr Walter Gerard to commence proceedings against his lordship on a writ of right with respect to his manors of Mowbray, Valence, Mowedale, Mowbray Valence, and several others carefully enumerated in their precise epistle, and the catalogue of which read like an extract from Domesday Book.

More than twenty years had elapsed since the question had been mooted; and though the discussion had left upon Lord de Mowbray an impression from which at times he had never entirely recovered, still circumstances had occurred since the last proceedings which gave him a moral if not a legal conviction that he should be disturbed no more. And these were the circumstances: Lord de Mowbray after the death of the father of Walter Gerard had found himself in communication with the agent who had developed and pursued the claim for the yeoman, and had purchased for a good round sum the documents on which that claim was founded, and by which apparently that claim could only be sustained.

The vendor of these muniments was Baptist Hatton, and the sum which he obtained for them, by allowing him to settle in the metropolis, pursue his studies, purchase his library and collections, and otherwise give himself that fair field which brains without capital can seldom command, was in fact the foundation of his fortune. Many years afterwards Lord de Mowbray had recognised Hatton in the prosperous parliamentary agent who often appeared at the bar of the House of Lords and before committees of privileges, and who gradually obtained an unrivalled reputation and employment in peerage cases. Lord de Mowbray renewed his acquaintance with a man who was successful; bowed to Hatton whenever they met; and finally consulted him respecting the barony of Valence which had been in the old Fitz-Warene and Mowbray families and to which it was thought the present earl might prefer some hocus-pocus claim through his deceased mother; so that however recent was his date as an English earl, he might figure on the roll as a Plantagenet baron, which in the course of another century would complete the grand mystification of high nobility. The death of his son dexterously christened Valence had a little damped his ardour in this respect; but still there was a sufficiently intimate connection kept up between him and Hatton; so that before he placed the letter he had received in the hands of his lawyers he thought it desirable to consult his ancient ally.

This was the reason that Lord de Mowbray was at the present moment seated in the same chair in the same library as was a few days back that worthy baronet, Sir Vavasour Firebrace. Mr Hatton was at the same table similarly employed; his Persian cat on his right hand, and his choice spaniels reposing on their cushions at his feet.

Mr Hatton held forward his hand to receive the letter of which Lord de Mowbray had been speaking to him, and which he read with great attention, weighing as it were each word. Singular! as the letter had been written by himself, and the firm who signed it were only his instruments, obeying the spring of the master hand.

"Very remarkable!" said Mr Hatton.

"Is it not!" said Lord de Mowbray.

"And your Lordship received this yesterday?"

"Yesterday. I lost no time in communicating with you."

"Jubb and Jinks," continued Mr Hatton, musingly, surveying the signature of the letter. "A very respectable firm."

"That makes it more strange," said his Lordship.

"It does," said Mr Hatton.

"A respectable firm would hardly embark in such a proceeding without some show of pretext," said Lord de Mowbray.

"Hardly," said Mr Hatton.

"But what can they have?" urged his Lordship.

"What indeed!" said Mr Hatton. "Mr Walter Gerard without his pedigree is a mere flash in the pan; and I defy him to prove anything without the deed of '77."

"Well, he has not got that," said Lord de Mowbray.

"Safe, of course?" said Mr Hatton.

"Certain. I almost wish I had burnt it as well as the whole box-full."

"Destroy that deed and the other muniments, and the Earl de Mowbray will never be Baron Valence," said Mr Hatton.

"But what use are these deeds now?" said his lordship. "If we produce them, we may give a colour to this fellow's claim."

"Time will settle his claim," said Mr Hatton; "it will mature yours. You can wait."

"Alas! since the death of my poor boy—"

"It has become doubly important. Substantiate the barony, it will descend to your eldest daughter, who, even if married, will retain your name. Your family will live, and ennobled. The Fitz-Warenes Lords Valence will yield to none in antiquity; and as to rank, as long as Mowbray Castle belongs to them, the revival of the earldom is safe at the first coronation, or the first ministry that exists with a balanced state of parties."

"That is the right view of the case," said Lord de Mowbray; "and what do you advise?"

"Be calm, and you have nothing to fear. This is the mere revival of an old claim, too vast to be allowed to lapse from desuetude. Your documents you say are all secure?"

"Be sure of that. They are at this moment in the muniment room of the great tower of Mowbray Castle; in the same iron box and in the same cabinet they were deposited—"

"When, by placing them in your hands," said Mr Hatton finishing a sentence which might have been awkward, "I had the extreme satisfaction of confirming the rights and calming the anxieties of one of our ancient houses. I would recommend your lordship to instruct your lawyers to appear to this writ as a matter of course. But enter into no details, no unnecessary confidence with them. They are needless. Treat the matter lightly, especially to them. You will hear no more of it."

"You feel confidence?"

"Perfect. Walter Gerard has no documents of any kind. Whatever his claim might be, good or bad, the only evidence that can prove his pedigree is in your possession and the only use to which it ever will be put, will be in due time to seat your grandson in the House of Lords."

"I am glad I called upon you," said Lord Mowbray.

"To be sure. Your lordship can speak to me without reserve, and I am used to these start-ups. It is part of the trade; but an old soldier is not to be deceived by such feints."

"Clearly a feint, you think?"

"A feint! a feint."

"Good morning. I am glad I have called. How goes on my friend Sir Vavasour?"

"Oh! I shall land him at last."

"Well, he is an excellent, neighbourly, man. I have a great respect for Sir Vavasour. Would you dine with me, Mr Hatton, on Thursday? It would give me and Lady de Mowbray great pleasure."

"Your lordship is extremely kind," said Mr Hatton bowing with a slight sarcastic smile, "but I am an hermit."

"But your friends should see you sometimes," said Lord de Mowbray.

"Your lordship is too good, but I am a mere man of business and know my position. I feel I am not at home in ladies' society."

"Well then come to-morrow: I am alone, and I will ask some persons to meet you whom you know and like,—Sir Vavasour and Lord Shaftesbury and a most learned Frenchman who is over here—a Vicomte de Narbonne, who is very anxious to make your acquaintance. Your name is current I can tell you at Paris."

"Your lordship is too good; another day: I have a great pressure of affairs at present."

"Well, well; so be it. Good morning, Mr Hatton."

Hatton bowed lowly. The moment the door was shut, rubbing his hands, he said, "In the same box and in the same cabinet: the muniment room in the great tower of Mowbray Castle! They exist and I know their whereabouts. I'll have 'em."

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